U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an address on border security in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Carlos Barria/Pool via Bloomberg)

Trump Is Losing the Shutdown Argument

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Last night’s presidential address and the response from the Democratic Party’s leaders in Congress offered little prospect that the stand-off over President Trump’s wall will be quickly resolved. As yet, neither side looks ready to back down or seek compromise. For this to change, public opinion may need to shift.

Encouragingly, last night’s exchange suggests it soon might — against Trump.

As the shutdown drags on, its damaging effects on the economy and on vital government functions (including border security, by the way) will become more apparent. And as the costs rise, attention will shift to who’s to blame. On this the president has more to worry about than his opponents.

It was telling that Trump’s address made no real effort to justify the shutdown as a legitimate or effective tactic. The president refused to accept even partial responsibility for this state of affairs. He dwelt on the costs of illegal immigration, as he sees them, and said his wall is necessary to improve border security, but he didn’t try to argue that this was a good reason to disable the government. It’s easy to see why: There’s no such case to be made.

Also worth noting was that the president didn’t, after all, threaten to declare a state of emergency and move ahead on the wall without congressional authorization — something he’s apparently been considering. It’s to be hoped he drops this idea altogether. Such a step would be of dubious legality, since there’s no real emergency and the action he proposes is explicitly opposed by the House of Representatives. If Trump has decided against adding constitutional crisis to government shutdown, it might be because he senses he’s losing the argument.

In contrast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Charles Schumer concentrated on the most pressing issue — the pointlessness of the shutdown. They emphasized their proposal to keep the government running while the debate over the border continues — an approach that some Republicans also seem to favor. Wisely, Pelosi and Schumer didn’t diminish the importance of adequate border security, but argued, correctly, that Trump’s wall wouldn’t help. In short, they made a much better case.

The longer the shutdown drags on, the more impressed voters will be with politicians who seem most interested in ending it. Last night, that was the Democrats.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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